Past and Present Collide in The Beach Trees
I know I really like a book when I am thinking about who I would recommended it to and I haven't even finished yet. And I could think of many people to whom I would recommend Karen White's The Beach Trees. It is a dark mystery of the southern variety. It is also an exploration of the human spirit after tragedies both personal and global.
Our narrator, Julie, is given custody of a young boy, Beau, and a beach house when her roommate dies at a young age. Julie must travel from New York City to Biloxi and New Orleans to connect with Beau's relatives and try to discover why her friend had disowned her southern family and moved north. Aimee, Beau's grandmother, and Julie try and piece together what happened by combining their knowledge.
The book primarily takes place in the not so distance past, where the aftermath of Katrina is still apparent, but rebuilding has begun. Aimee tells a tale of two brothers and neighbors the runs through the 1950s and 1960s. It is Aimee's tales of the past that hold the clue to the estrangement.
I'm hesitant to reveal more. The book is a twisty-turny mystery and having finished the book and knowing the outcome, it is hard to say what may or may not be a clue to a different reader. The Beach Trees is deftly paced and well-written, each woman's voice in telling her tale is quite clear. Even if the chapters weren't labels, the speaker would be obvious.
The tale is as dark as the southern spirit is strong and fans of southern mysteries will love this one. It reminds me a bit of Dorthea Benton Frank. The descriptions of post-Katrina resilience and hope make quite an impact. The strength of character of both Julie and Aimee is quite evident, though one is northern and one southern, they both exhibit the combination of grit and compassion that is so indicative of southern women in literature.
The Beach Trees would make a fantastic summer read, flying through the pages by the pool or at the beach. It is an easy read, but gripping; a real page turner. My one caveat, don't start the last 50 pages right before bed -- you'll want to stay up and finish.